Wales’ hopes of automatic Euro 2024 qualification are hanging by a thread after they drew 1-1 with Armenia in Yerevan.
Rod Page’s side require Croatia to drop points in their final matches against either Latvia later on Saturday or against Armenia, while also winning themselves against already-qualified Turkey in Cardiff on Tuesday.
Armenia started strongly and opened the scoring within five minutes. Wales failed to clear a corner and Lucas Zelarayan, who scored twice in Cardiff, found space to unleash a powerful low effort past Danny Ward.
Nair Tiknizyan’s headed own goal from Connor Roberts’ long throw restored parity for Page’s side on the stroke of half-time but they could not complete the turnaround in the second period.
Armenia might well have won it in stoppage time but Ward made a fine save to deny substitute Edgar Sevikyan. The result moves Wales on to 11 points in second place in Group D but they can be overtaken by Croatia if they win in Latvia.
If Latvia beat Croatia, a Wales win over Turkey takes them through no matter what. But should Croatia win their final two fixtures, even beating Turkey would not be enough for Wales, who would then be involved in the March play-offs.
Armenia’s chances of a top-two place are almost certainly over, barring a Croatia collapse.
Armenia: Chancharevich (6), Calisir (6), Haroyan (7), Iwu (6), Spertsyan (7), Zelarayan (8), Ranos (6), Bichakhchyan (7), Dashyan (6), Tiknizyan (7), Arutiunian (6).
Subs: Sevikyan (7), Miranyan (6), Harutyunyan (6)
Wales: Ward (7), N. Williams (7), Davies (6), Mepham (6), Rodon (7), J. James (6), Brooks (6), Ampadu (6), Roberts (7), Wilson (5), Moore (6).
Subs: Johnson (5), D. James (6), Broadhead (n/a)
Player of the match: Lucas Zelarayan.
How all is not lost for Wales despite disappointment in Yerevan
Wales knew two closing victories would see them secure qualification for a fourth tournament out of five. Dropped points would need them relying on favourable results elsewhere and the prospect of avoiding the play-offs in March where the likes of Norway, Poland and Ukraine could be lurking.
Armenia – ranked 95 in the world and 67 places below Wales – showed nine survivors from the team who had won in Cardiff in June, including Grant-Leon Ranos and Zelarayan who both scored twice then.
- Wales were unchanged for their crunch Euro 2024 qualifier against Armenia in Yerevan.Tottenham forward Brennan Johnson was available again after missing last month’s 2-1 win over Croatia through injury, but boss Rob Page kept faith with the side who started that victory.
- Armenia named nine of the team who beat Wales 4-2 in Cardiff five months ago.Wales know closing wins against Armenia and Turkey at home on Tuesday would secure qualification for Euro 2024 in Germany next summer.
The hosts made the perfect start when Zelarayan pounced on a poor headed clearance from Joe Rodon to fire past Ward inside five minutes.
Welsh frustrations would grow. Chris Mepham was walking disciplinary tightropes in Armenia, but the defender was booked for a needless foul which means he will miss the game against Turkey on Tuesday.
Rob Page watched his side create chances as Harry Wilson shot from Neco Williams’ pass was tipped expertly around the post by Ognjen Cancarevic. It looked as though Wales would trail at the break, but in stoppage time they would gleefully accept Tiknizyan’s gift.
Roberts’ long throw was hurled towards Rodon but it was the Armenia defender who flicked the ball past the hapless Cancarevic to breathe life into the visitors.
Brennan Johnson replaced Brooks within three minutes of the restart and the contest was developing a spicy edge with Varazdat Haroyan cautioned for chopping down Wilson and Ethan Ampadu similarly punished for his reaction to the challenge.
Armenia went mightily close as Vahan Bichakhchyan’s chip drifted over the head of Ward and onto the crossbar.
The crowd held its breath as Zelarayan seemed certain to bury the rebound but instead the game’s best player sliced it over.
Armenia were slowly turning the screw, but Cancarevic was tested from outside the box by Jordan James and needed a second attempt to gather.
Eduard Spertsyan had a clear sight of goal before being denied by one of an increasing number of last-gasp Welsh blocks.
Moore’s header was held by Cancarevic and in a frantic finale Ward produced a flying stop to deny substitute Edgar Sevikyan, who later shot wide with the goal at his mercy.
Have Wales blown their chances?
Sky Sports News’ Geraint Hughes in Yerevan:
“It’s not very often you several players from both sides on the floor, on their knees at the end of a game.
“Result not good for either side, but that last 10-15 minutes is one of the more extraordinary you’ll witness. Lung sapping and hard on the nerves!
“Everything was last ditch, control and composure went out of the window. Wales players go and thank their fans, I’m not sure they’ve the energy to clap for too long.
“Have Wales blown their chance? They need a favour from Latvia.”
Analysis: Wales attacked poorly
Former Wales international Robert Earnshaw on Soccer Saturday:
“To be honest, Wales are pretty much in the play-offs because of their Nations League qualifying, but you expect Croatia to beat Latvia. Wales had to win this game and now it is all in Croatia’s hands.
“It’s devastating for Wales. This was the tricky one, Armenia have beaten Wales 4-2 and they’ve now drawn. Those points would have qualified Wales for the Euros.
“Wales were poor when attacking, even if they played well in general. But it was an excellent game. End-to-end stuff, full of action and tension. The Armenia coach was even on the floor at one point!”
Armenia’s final Euro 2024 Qualifier is away to Croatia on Tuesday – kick-off 7.45pm.
Wales wrap up their Euro 2024 Qualifying campaign against Turkey at the Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday – kick-off 7.45pm.